Our dinner guest was happy about demonetization. It would push Indians to go digital. Behold the cashless society. I looked at him uncomprehendingly. The world of business and politics had changed overnight. In the US, the Klu Klux Klan was celebrating the big win of their candidate. In India, mobile wallets were threatening a mass takeover after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the government was withdrawing old bank notes of Rs500 and Rs1,000. The largest mobile-wallet company, Paytm, announced a 1,000% growth in the money added to its user accounts.
“You could also just get a UPI,” my guest said. Hmm. Lunch at a banker’s house a couple of days later was a whirl of more vaguely familiar acronyms: IMPS, NEFT, RTGS, NPCI, mPos. I was too embarrassed to say that cash on delivery (COD) was my only concession to the world of online transactions. My life is still Account Payee Only.
My plumber was handling demonetization better than me. “Sure, I’m accepting Rs500 notes, I’ll exchange them at the bank after the rush subsides,” he told me as he saw my worried expression and mentally doubled his rate.
“It’s time to go digital,” read the threatening email from my bank. “Additionally, you can also experience the power of cashless transactions…”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a salaried professional. I have a National Share Depository Ltd account. I e-filed my taxes too. I use my debit card freely for store purchases and ATM withdrawals (Most Indians use their debit cards mainly to draw cash from the ATM), though I threw away the credit card a while ago. But I don’t get aroused when someone tells me I can now access my bank account on my mobile phone. Or just press a button to pay the bill. There’s only so far I’m willing to go. For any new relationship to work, both parties must meet halfway, right? I’d like to see some more documentation before I pledge monogamy to Cashless India.
The husband has been the life of the party after demonetization. His favourite story is titled: “Do you know she doesn’t have an Aadhaar card?”
Yes, I understand my internet-connected smartphone is probably a greater data source about me if anyone’s ever looking (even though I always disable my location services and, no, I never use the phone to find my way—I prefer asking), but why add to the steady stream of information I’m putting on the cloud for the Surveillance State? Why should my life be reduced to a number? (This is a rhetorical question. I’m not anti-Aadhaar, I’ll sign up the day I need it.)
My grandmother was a cranky, suspicious, fiercely independent woman who lived alone. One enduring memory I have is of wheeling her to her Godrej cupboard, which she unlocked painstakingly to take out a crumpled 100-rupee note from her stash for me every time I visited. She was never able to forget all the wealth she left behind when she travelled to India from Sindh during Partition and always had a troubled relationship with money. Maybe I inherited some of that. Or maybe my way is the right way.
I like to buy my asters and carnations from Louisa, who spreads out her colourful wares on the pavement outside the church. I prefer Mumbai’s Kali Peeli over Uber. Only drivers of the former can tell me what’s going to happen in the Uttar Pradesh election. My ironing guy with the super-smart eight-year-old daughter, the fish seller who calls every time he has bombil, the local Udupi where Babyjaan eats “oil dosa” every Sunday and the old lady who sits outside the park, too shy to beg for money, don’t yet accept cards. What simple pleasures will a cashless society offer me if I give up this network of people with whom I interact regularly?
“She doesn’t believe in sharing her payment information online,” my spouse loves to tell people. Why would I, when we already have the details of one credit card (his) online? I use cash on delivery, and for everything else (iTunes, Netflix and travel bookings mainly) I depend on the husband’s card. I buy groceries and other assorted household supplies and pay restaurant bills on my debit card. This system backfired when we set up an Uber account on his credit card and kept changing the phone number every time one of us travelled. One day something went wrong and now I’m unable to log on to my Uber app. It doesn’t matter. I prefer autorickshaws anyway.
Maybe this is just an old lady rant from someone who’s finding it difficult to change with the times. I love the internet and I think it adds amazing value to the lives of people, especially women. I can’t imagine living in an India that is not connected. More than 25 years after the World Wide Web came into existence, no Indian should be deprived of the magic that opens up any universe you could possibly want. So I’ve started reading the dystopian Bible, Rebooting India, by Nandan Nilekani and Viral Shah, to understand why I must take the leap from connected to cashless and paperless. Watch this space for answers.
Meanwhile, all the pending plumbing jobs in the house have been tackled.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani and posts on Instagram as babyjaanramani.
Also read: Priya’s Mint Lounge columns